Upgrade, Downgrade And A New Start For Various NHL Teams

Two teams, battling on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, making a deadline-day swap involving important current pieces of their roster? What year is it? The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers made a legitimate hockey trade Monday. And, as far as deadline moves go, it’s a complex one. The Hurricanes sent centers Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula plus prospects Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie to the Panthers for center Vincent Trocheck.

It’s simple enough from the Hurricanes’ perspective. Assuming they can figure out their injury-ravaged net situation, they believe they’re legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season, and they add a significant piece to their forward group in Trocheck. He’s a high-motor two-way pivot who makes a consistently positive impact on the possession game, with a positive Corsi rating relative to his teammates every season of his career. He’s an underrated playmaker. Over the past three seasons, his 0.77 primary assists per 60 place him 77th in the NHL among 391 forwards who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5. He’s strong on faceoffs. He can play in all situations, including shorthanded. He missed 27 games last season due to an ankle injury but has stayed relatively healthy in 2019-20. He’s not a rental for Carolina, either. He has two seasons left on his contract at a $4.75-million AAV, which is good value given the versatility brings.

So why would the Panthers, who are chasing the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Atlantic – and the Hurricanes for a wild-card spot – sell off one of their most important pieces? Well, it wasn’t a pure selloff. In Wallmark and Haula, the Panthers land two legitimate NHL forwards and improve their depth. Both are responsible two-way players who can slot somewhere into the middle six. With the No. 2 center job vacated, it’s likely Haula, who is a capable goal-scorer when his knees are healthy enough to keep him on the ice, will get a shot on the second line. He’s a rental as a pending UFA, and Wallmark is an RFA this summer.

What gets particularly interesting for the Panthers is the acquisition of prospects Luostarinen, a playmaking center, and Priskie, an offense-minded AHL blueliner who was a coveted college free agent. Are they insurance for the Panthers if they miss the playoffs? Or are they capital to be used in another deal? It’s been rumored for weeks now that Tallon wants to acquire another blueliner. By shipping out Trocheck for Haula and Wallmark, the Panthers also free up $1.325 million in cap space. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if this move is a precursor to other ones.

The Hurricanes get better with this trade, especially since Haula was having a down year. The Panthers might get worse, but not by much, and they’ve added some flexibility that could help them get better before the day is up.